WICKER PARK — An office touted as the city's first "medical marijuana clinic" opened Wednesday in a strip mall on Ashland Avenue — and the line to get in stretched out the door.
The clinic at 1723 N. Ashland Ave. in Wicker Park was to open at 10 a.m., but it opened slightly earlier as people lined up outside. A spokesman said more than 30 people had been seen by midmorning.
One would-be patient, a 44-year-old Lincoln Park man who identified himself only as Angel, said he was looking for a way to reduce seizures. He said he has had cerebral palsy since birth.
Angel said he has been smoking pot since age 15, and when he stops, the seizures can hit as often as seven times a day.
"I don't know what it feels like to be hit with a stun gun," said Angel, but when when the seizures hit "it is the kind of pain that makes you cry out."
Asked why he is going through the process to get a card, Angel said: "I don't want to be hassled by the fuzz. I want to be legitimate."
Another potential clinic patient was a 58-year-old woman from Naperville who said she suffers from severe migraines. Prescription medicines make her "severely nauseous," she said.
The woman said she works full time in retail and used marijuana for 10 years when she lived in Colorado, where pot is legal for medicinal use. Since moving to the area in February, she has been waiting for Illinois to OK pot sales, she said.
Gov. Pat Quinn last week signed into law a measure allowing medical marijuana in Illinois.
Noting the number of reporters at the clinic Wednesday, the woman said: "This is supposed to be a private thing. Why are all these news crews here?"
The clinic — next to two other medical offices — is owned by Tammy Jacobi, who has operated a similar clinic in Saugatuck, Mich., where medical marijuana is legal.
Jacobi, of Good Intentions LLC, said she chose Wicker Park because it was close to the Kennedy Expy. and near her clinic partner, Dr. Brian Murray, who owns Big Rapids Surgery.
Under Illinois law, such clinics will not be able to dispense marijuana, but patients can get prescriptions for pot from a doctor there. Those applicants OK'd by the state will be able to use the prescriptions at a marijuana dispensary. The locations of the 60 dispensaries allowed by the new law haven't been revealed.
Potential patients paid a nonrefundable $99 registration fee, cash or check only. Clinic spokesman Daniel Reid said that a doctor will review applications and call applicants back within six to eight weeks.
Those selected to meet with a doctor pay a $149 fee, which includes assistance with the paperwork needed to get a medical marijuana card. A third visit with the doctor is another $99, Reid said.
Good Intentions does not accept insurance.
One of the first people in line was Sidney Lee Morgan, 46, a Loop resident. He said he has suffered from glaucoma since 1997 and takes three medicines and eyedrops that cost $250 a month.
He said he wants a medical marijuana prescription so he can give up the eyedrops.
Nelson Ortiz, 61, a former truck driver from Elmhurst, said he is seeking marijuana to reduce his use of the painkiller Vicodin. He said his hip has been deteriorating since 1993, his knee pops, and he has arthritis.
Five months ago, Ortiz said a friend introduced him to marijuana, which he smokes once or twice a week. He said it has helped him deal with the adverse effects of the Vicodin.
Clinic applicants Wednesday were required to fill out seven-page form and pay a $99 evaluation fee. They were required to acknowledge that they had come to the clinic for a legitimate and legal medical reason and that they understood that the application for marijuana was not a guarantee that they would get permission.
The forms asked questions including:
• What is the reason you are seeking a recommendation to use medical marihuana (sic) ?
• What benefits do you expect to receive from using medical marihuana?
• What goals are you setting for your treatment?
• Do you intend to reduce the amount of prescription medicine you are taking?
• What benefits have you had from marijuana in the past?
• Do you have a primary physician? If so, is your physician aware that you intend to use medical marijuana?
Jacobi has described her clinic as a "first step" in the process. While any medical doctor can prescribe medical marijuana, patients, under Illinois law, need to have an "existing relationship" with the physician prescribing it.
Jacobi's clinic, she said, will provide potential patients the opportunity to establish a relationship before the law kicks in on Jan. 1, 2014.
Jacobi wants to erect a billboard on the side of the building that faces the Kennedy Expy.
The sign, she said, will read: "Hello, I'm Illinois Medical Marijuana."